How Spanish Toledo Revived European Civilization


Toledo, Spain.

Toledo, Spain.

From 712 to 1085 the Spanish city Toledo—now one of the most visited tourist cities of Spain—belonged to the Moors, who called it Tulaytula. By that time, Europe had slowly forgotten all the achievements of the Greeks and Romans, having deteriorated into some muddy backwater of overall illiteracy and grubbiness, but the Arab world kept rapidly developing. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine that back then science prospered in Bagdad, Cairo, Cordoba, and Toledo, rather than in Rome, London, or Paris.

In 1055, the Russian knyazhna Anna, married to the French king, wrote in horror to her father, Yaroslav the Wise, the Grand Prince of Kiev, “Dear Father, they wash themselves only once a year here!… The dwellings are gloomy, the churches are ugly, and the mores are terrible… No king here is able to read… Where did you send my sinful soul? To this stinking hole, to France, to this damned city of Paris!…”

By the way, Anna Yaroslavna knew three other languages apart from Russian: Greek, Latin, and French.

Meanwhile the work of translating all writings of the Greek scientists that could be found during trips to Asia Minor was in full swing in the Arab Muslim Caliphate. All the bright minds of the empire assembled in Bagdad. They were well paid only for a single purpose–to keep developing science and art. Moreover, nobody ever demanded proof that the research would result in practical use.

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The Laocoon Group—My Favorite Greek Mythology Sculpture of the Vatican Museum


The Laocoon Group sculpture in the Vatican Museum. Rome, Italy.

The Laocoon Group sculpture in the Vatican Museums. Rome, Italy.

The Laocoon sculpture is a perfectly performed Death itself. I was a child when I first saw this statue. I did not realize its value. I just looked at the beautiful bodies of a grandfather and his grandchildren. Oh yes, I did not know it was the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. If there is a beard, then he must be an old man, period! But this old man was in such perfect physical condition that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I guess the ancient Greeks knew some kind of secret of getting into such a shape and keeping it without using the steroids that we need nowadays in order to recreate such an appearance.

This is the only statue that in my childhood I failed to draw successfully from the catalogue due to the huge amount of detail. It was much easier with Venus de Milo or Apollo sculptures. And now just imagine how much effort it took to cut it out from a solid marble block. As I learned later, there were two blocks, but still, does it make the process easier?

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Epiphany of the Lord or Russian Winter, Russian Cuisine, and Russian Bath

By Irina.

When you are going to visit distant Russia, you have to choose whether to do it in winter or in summer. The bravest travelers choose the exotic Russian winters, therefore this post will be about celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord in Russia.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, Russia.

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow, Russia.

We hoped that the temperature wouldn’t be lower than – 5 to -10°C, but when we landed at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, the captain of our airliner announced cheerfully, “Welcome to Russia. The weather in Moscow is fine and sunny. The ambient temperature is 22 degrees below zero.” Oops! Surprise! Surviving became our main goal. We wanted impressions of Russia, but not chilblains.

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